A Human Pace

And just like that it seems we’re in quite settled, quite warm weather. It changes everything, not least how long I feel like being in the saddle. I’m now doing 30+ mile (50-60 km) or longer rides in Berkshire, South Oxfordshire or North Hampshire.

With the warmth comes a change in pace – if they can, people seem to slow down, or at least want to. Where they can, there are more smiles to be seen; people seem happier and more relaxed.

In the villages (numerous) and small towns (Wallingford- or Watlington-sized, for example) that I’ve ridden through lately it seems palpable. People are still doing what they have to do, of course, but there’s less bustle and less hustle.

In contrast, in larger towns, Reading most obviously, the hot weather seems more likely to generate frustration – people want to slow down but can’t. The heat serves only to increase the tensions that come with the inevitable traffic jams or car park queues and so on. You can only pity the slow-cooked commuters on the trains.

And it seems to me the key thing is that it’s not the case that warm weather makes us want to relax and makes us happier and thus makes us slow down. Rather, it’s that we are wiling to slow down when it’s warmer, and it’s when we slow down that we find the slower pace makes us happier.

Obviously, that’s all just unscientific impressionism – it’s how it strikes me, that’s all. But it did make me wonder whether there’s such a thing as a human pace – a speed of things, a speed of life, that somewhere, somehow, deep down, chimes most happily with our internal body clocks or some other internal, instinctive rhythm.

If that were true, the natural conclusion should be that we ought to be trying to match the speed of our collective lives to that pace. As it is, collectively we seem remarkably willing to let any number of external factors dictate to us how fast we must live our lives: from the non-negotiable demands of the working day to the incessant nagging of social media.

PS: Apropos of nothing, I work with ‘unstated.name‘ – newly launched and which you might like.

Fox gloves in the sun

“Time to stop and smell the …”

Pink World

Rolling out at the start of a ride and cycling through Caversham, I saw a young female runner. She had on a pink top and pink-and-black calf-length leggings. She had bright pink shoes and her long blonde hair was tied up with a pink band. She was running with supreme, enviable ease. She had white headphones on, attached to whatever her chosen mobile device was, which in turn was strapped to her arm. In one hand she had a clear-with-pink-bits water bottle while the other was holding a shiny black-and-silver dog lead, at the other end of which was a not-quite-handbag-sized-but–small dog, running along as fast as it could to keep up.

And it occurred to me that this person’s world is just amazingly far away from my own. We can share the same streets, the same town and country but surely we’d have almost nothing in common if you sat us down in a room together to chew the fat.

It’s election time in England at the moment – European MPs and some local councillors. Inevitably, you’ll see some political activists have put up posters for parties and hence beliefs that you simply do not share and cannot understand why anyone else would want to adhere to.

It’s easy to wish for a world in which one’s own political beliefs were universal, but I’d hate it if the world didn’t include runners in pink and any number of other strangers living different lives to me. Which I guess is a way of saying the politics I really want is the politics of consensus – a world where different views are accommodated and respected.

For some, it's a pink world

For some, it’s a pink world

Flood Avoidance (With Route)(Just For Cyclists)

If you’re itching to get out on your bike for a ride but are struggling for a route given all the rain, this loop between north Reading over to the other side of Woodcote might be worth a try. It’s a 20 mile route with a couple of lumpy bits to keep you exercised.

At the time of writing it avoided any major problems caused by flooded rivers or (still) rising groundwater, but be warned – many of the roads are in an atrocious state, and not just the smaller lanes. A lot of care is needed. But that all said, it’s better to be out than in!

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No Surprises / New Thrills

One night during the week I woke up sometime around three, the house was cold … and it was very quiet; everywhere felt very still. Sleep-befuddled, I briefly wondered if it was cold enough for snow.

Of course it wasn’t – as I knew from the forecasts. Despite the iffy nature of British weather forecasting, it’s rare that weather will be surprising. By and large, the errors are within safe margins.

Mid-week, I had to go Buckingham way for a business meeting, to somewhere I’d never been before. I plotted a route in some detail and printed it out. (As is my wont, if I can find a back-roads kind of way I normally will. SatNavs just don’t give you the flexibility.) I looked up the place I was going on Google’s Street View and fixed that in my mind before leaving. I checked for road works and other problems before I left.

I had a totally uneventful trip and found the place with ease, recognising it from Street View. Hassle free! Stress free!

And I had pretty well no sense of adventure, and no sense of discovery. As with the weather, it seems there are fewer and fewer opportunities for surprises these days.

My first reaction to that thought was that it’s a shame. Of course, there’s the option to wilfully remain in the dark but that seems, well, just stupid – and realising that made me think that having all this knowledge to hand isn’t a shame: it just moves the focus. Whereas once there might have been a thrill in finding something out for yourself and now that’s easy … the thrill, surely, now lies in what you do with whatever it is you’ve been able to find out about.

As for cycling, this week has seen a 40+ mile ride on Monday, a routine circumnavigation of Reading and a shorter one in South Oxon’s mucky lanes today. However, whichever way you tackle it, riding at this time of year doesn’t have a great deal of sparkle.

If you’re trying to keep the miles up and your legs in good shape then you can take the approach I was adopting on Monday and go for longer rides – do the weekly distance, but have to make yourself go out less frequently. The trouble is, that gets a bit of a grind after a cold and grey couple of hours …

So, instead, you can take the ‘several short trips’ option – but then you’re having to muster up the initial will power more often.

You could just stay in of course – but “winter miles equals summer smiles” and all that …

Just merging-in naturally

Just merging-in naturally

Cyclists: Saving A Loved One’s Life

Yesterday, I watched an ambulance, blues lights flashing, struggle to get through heavy traffic in central Reading. I don’t know what emergency they were hurrying to: a heart attack perhaps. Quite possibly, seconds and minutes lost on the over-crowded roads will have made a difference to whoever they were trying to get to.

If more people were cycling, there would be less traffic. Ambulances would be able to get to emergencies a lot more quickly.

If you’re not the person in need of the ambulance, it might be someone you know – relative, friend, loved-one.

And if you cycle yourself, you will be healthier than if you don’t. You’ll probably be less likely to have a heart attack.

So, why not cycle whenever you can? And whether you’re cycling or not, why not always look upon every cyclist you come across as a good thing, making the roads that little bit less congested, and ambulances that little bit more able to come quickly to the help of someone you care about? You’d have to be daft not to.

Some things are just so starkly simple … it seems faintly ludicrous that you have to say them.

Bridges Aren’t Just For Cars (With Route)

A reasonable if windy ride – hard going in places but I guess that’s what autumn’s all about.

The route took me through Sonning, out to Marlow and then back to Caversham via Henley. Sonning bridge is “closed” during the daytime at the moment. You don’t have to be local to realize that a bridge across the Thames is important in the overall scheme of things – there aren’t that many of them. Finding an alternative route is a big deal on a bike – it means quite a few extra miles.

That’s how the local newspaper reported the closure:

Reading Chronicle on Sonning bridge closure

I thought it sounded like it wasn’t major work, emailed the council, and was told cyclists could get across throughout the day.

The Reading Chronicle is avowedly pro-cycling and as a cyclist I’m pleased about that. For example:

Reading Chronicle on 20mph speed limits

… but they didn’t find out if cyclists could still get across the “closed” bridge. The paper is by no means alone. On the ground, the Council (presumably responsible for the signs on the roads) totally ignores cyclists and pedestrians (who can also walk across all day) alike.

Bridge closed sign in Sonning

Spot the missing information

None of this is a big deal – worse things happen at sea. What it does show, though, is how far commonplace thinking has to change if we’re really going to move towards being a pro-cycling nation.

Marlow Bridge in autumn sun

Marlow Bridge – looking good in the autumn sun

The Route:

In essence – Reading – Sonning – Wargrave – Marlow – Henley – Reading. It’s what I’d describe as a good one for a reasonably confident solo cyclist – there’s a fair bit of main road work that’s fine if you’re relaxed about it, but not necessarily for the nervous and they’re roads that rather limit conversation if you’re riding with someone! Inevitably, some of the lanes are pretty rough – stones, pot-holes etc.

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